Artistic Self of Marit FOSSE Meeting the Editor-in-Chief of Diva International Diplomat magazine , Writer and…. Artist
By Evelina Rioukhina
Blue, ocean turquoise, sunny orange, fresh green, but also dark yellow, brown, violet, purple, grey and black. Abstract or cubist, allegorical or concrete, chaotic forms or precise definition. This is a special springtime in the life of Marit Fosse: a pandemic spring.
We know Marit as the long-standing editor-in-chief of Diva International Diplomat magazine, the magazine that she founded among – and for – the Geneva international community. Through her interviews we have come to know many people: leaders, diplomats, ambassadors, UN secretaries-general and their deputies, ministers, and presidents.
Some of us also know her as a compelling and powerful writer. From her pen we learnt the fascinating story of the Covenant of Nations, about the last Secretary-General of the League of Nations, Sean Lester, and its final days during the Second World War. She has taken us on a fascinating trip to the Arctic with world-renowned historian and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen, who later became the first High Commissioner for Refugees.
Also, there are, quite unexpectedly, her paintings: many different ones. Are these a secret passion? Or is Marit taking us on a journey through forms and colours using a different language – not a pen, but paint, brush and colours?
Marit has interviewed people throughout her life, making them visible while she remains in the shade. I am fortunate to be one of her friends, and also one of her admirers, and my awareness of her humility inspired me to introduce her from a different angle.
Meet with the editor-in-chief of the magazine. Let us travel with her through her story, her vision, her interviews, her books, and perhaps she will give us the key to her secret garden – her paintings.
Q: First of all, tell us about the magazine. As we know, you created this magazine. How did your decision to create it come about?
First of all, thank you for the honor you do me. I don’t pretend to be an accomplished journalist but rather an eternal apprentice. I fell into journalism by accident, I love it, but to say that I am on the same level as everybody else would be pretentious.
Life is filled with coincidences, and Diva is one of them. When I was working in WHO as a finance officer, a colleague journalist pointed out that there was no magazine for the international community, and he intended to create one. He was going to do the writing, and I was going to help him. However, it did not turn out that way, and all of a sudden, I found myself doing something I had never dreamt of doing. I was very lucky because I met some excellent journalists who taught me the basics, and some continue to help me even today.
Many people have a certain narrow conception of journalists, and that’s a pity. Sometimes you even meet people who ask, “How come you are only a journalist?” Yet, today most journalists have university degrees and are highly trained professionals, and it’s really intellectually stimulating to be surrounded by such many-talented persons.
Q: Why Diva?
Diva is an international name, and it was my best friend who gave me the name.
Q: Everybody has a story of arriving in Geneva. Tell us your story.
Another pure coincidence. I got an opportunity to work in the World Health Organisation as a finance officer. I am trained as an economist/finance person from the Norwegian School of Economics & Business Administration (NHH), and I also graduated in social sciences from the Institut Catholique de Paris.
Q: How do you see Geneva through the years, and in particular the role of the magazine in ever-changing Geneva?
Geneva is a not a major metropolis, but it has a unique spirit. It has the advantages of being a relatively small city with the feel of a major cosmopolitan one. I would say it’s a perfect mix. Geneva is a unique place when it comes to diplomacy and international relations and an interesting place to be simply because there are so many interesting things happening, be they in the field of health, human rights, economy and finance, international negotiations or whatever. I do not think anyone can change Geneva apart from the people who live here. They are the ones contributing to make the city what it is today – open, accessible…
Q: Your books are impressive. Where do you get this inspiration?
Libraries are great places to find inspiration, and in particular the one we have in the United Nations. It is a wonderful place filled with dedicated and clever people. The library organises Library Talks and many other events, and it’s a real source of inspiration for me.
When it comes to my books it’s another coincidence. I had not finished my PhD thesis, so, one day I decided that it might be time to finish it. The director of my thesis, my mentor, had passed away, so, instead of the economic and social sciences, I ventured into political science and ended up doing research about the League of Nations. Instead of a PhD thesis, I ended up writing a book. Then, the director of the library, Mr Pierre Pelou, suggested that I should “dust off” Nansen, so, I started to look into his life, the political situation after the Frist World War, the refugee situation etc. John Fox was working with me at that time, and we signed the book together. It was then followed by the book about Sean Lester. Since then I have pursued my research. My colleague Katya and I have just finished another one that has taken us three years of research, and we hope that the book will be published this year. It was delayed because of the current pandemic situation.
Q: The period you write about, in your book about Sean Lester, describes the dramatic setting of a totally abandoned Palace, during the spring. It was long ago, during the Second World War. You describe the last days of the League of Nations, and its Secretary-General who decided to stay inside the Palace as the captain of the sinking ship. The Palace got suddenly abandoned this Spring again, for a different reason. Was there anything in common between those two situations?
Well, in brief, one can say that there are many similarities between our current time and the 1930s leading up to the Second World War. Some say that history tends to repeat itself. Let’s hope this will not be the case. However, I would say that there are many lessons to be learned from that period and perhaps we should encourage people to read and reread history.
Q: You were confined in France for several months. Is that when you started to paint, or does you been painting go back to earlier years? And how did it happen that you started painting?
In sequential order, it goes like this. I started to paint, then Diva came along, and then the book writing. Painting was something I had always wanted to try, so, one day, once more by pure coincidence, I got the chance to try out oil painting. The following day I went out and got canvas, brushes and tubes of oil paint. I have painted ever since. I have taken part in exhibitions, followed some classes, and I continue to improve my skills – or, let’s say, I hope I do.
When I paint, I play with colours, when I write I play with words. You know there are so many talented people out there, I’m just lucky to have found another way to express myself.
Q: Do you plan to have an exhibition here – art exhibition? You have magnificent paintings. (Gallery is published in the magazine.)
The current situation makes long-term planning quite difficult. I will participate in a joint exhibit in Paris shortly with mainly Lebanese and Arab artists. The exhibition is entitled Beirut for ever. (Galerie Terrain Vagh, 24 Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, 75005 Paris).
Q: You use a rich palette of colours, playing so easily with them as a true magician, and you are so much at ease with different painting styles. Where does your inspiration come from – your travels, events in life? What exactly is your driving force for the paintings?
Thanks a lot for your kind words. We are surrounded by colours, and we are lucky to live in a region where the colours change according to the seasons. I presume I was born with this rich palette of colours. It’s impossible for me to tell you how and why. There is no driving force, nor are there any plans. It all comes to me when I’m there with my brushes, canvas and tubes.
Q: Who are your favourite painters, styles? What are your favourite museums?
Personally, I think artwork has to touch you, to create an emotion either good or bad. For me that’s how it works. When it comes to painters it’s a matter of taste, and also mood. One day you can be thrilled by a Matisse, another day it might be something completely different. I like the classics such a Monet, Van Gogh, Miro, Chagall, and many, many others.
When it comes to the museums, there are so many interesting places to visit – either it’s in New York, Paris, London or Geneva. I have not had a chance to visit the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, which is must be a marvellous one, but I was very lucky to visit the Salvinsky Museum in Nukus, in Uzbekistan, with their unique collection of avant-garde Russian paintings. It was a wonderful museum, and thanks to Mr Salvinsky and his passion for art, art history had to be rewritten.
Q: What message are you trying to convey through your paintings? Why those colours, why those abstracts – is it how you see the current situation?
You are asking very difficult questions, and I can only cite Jean Cocteau: an artist cannot speak about her/his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.
What I want to convey through my paintings is what Wassily Kandinsky once said: "Lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and... stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to ’walk about’ into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?"
Q: Are you optimistic by nature? Do you believe in the “light at the end of the tunnel”, and if so, how do you see it?
You are indeed very clever at asking difficult questions. Life consists of ups and downs for everybody, and we always have the choice of seeing the glass half empty or half full. A friend, Noha Baz, a Lebanese paediatric doctor and writer, called her autobiography Il n’y a pas de honte à préférer le bonheur (There Is No Shame in Pefering Happiness). I think she is right, for in life you have the choice of seeing the positive side or the negative. I try to choose the positive one.
Q: If you were to paint today, what exactly would you paint, what colours would you use?
Another very difficult question. Inspiration comes and goes. It’s impossible for me to say what I would paint, or which colours I would use until I start to paint.
Q: You have been interviewing so many people. What were the most significant episodes or meetings or interviews that impressed you?
I am and have been very lucky to meet a lot of people from all over the world. They have all taught me something, about their lives, about their professions, their conceptions of life. I like people, and there are so many interesting people out there who do so many interesting and positive things. These are the people I like to meet, the people I feature in Diva.
Q: Who is for you an example to follow? As a person, as a leader, as a writer, as a journalist or as a painter?
Personally, I get inspired of the people who do good to others, the unsung heroes. They might not be in the public eye, but they are there every day taking care of others, stretching out a hand to those who need it.
We have now gone through a historical and completely surrealistic period during this pandemic, and I think it’s been an awakening period for many people. What do we realise? That we need each other, that we need solidarity and that at the end of the day, there is no difference between rich and poor, between the important people and the “common mortels”.
The COVID pandemic has shown us that we are all the same. So, I think what we could do is simply be more there for one another, stretching out a hand to our neighbours, talking to one another and looking out for each other.
Q: Do you have dreams that you would like to make true – to achieve through the magazine, through the paintings, books, or through any other forms?
As any other human being, I have dreams about a better world where people can live in harmony and peace with each other.
Q: What are your plans for future?
After having finished answering all your questions, my immediate future plan is to go and steal chocolate in a friend’s office. He always has a box of chocolate on his table, so one day when he was out, I knocked on his door and “borrowed” one or perhaps two. I later confessed my crime, and now I have the authorisation, and my nickname is “the chocolate thief”. Now, I even suspect that he is always making sure that he has enough chocolate in case I drop by…